Is SharePoint 2010 the answer for document management?

Noel Williams is the Managing Director of MacroView, a Sydney-based Microsoft Gold Partner specialising in solutions based on Microsoft SharePoint and Microsoft Office. MacroView develops and markets a range of add-ons for document management and document preparation (see Noel explains why he is excited about the opportunity to create enhanced document management solutions with SharePoint 2010.

MOSS 2007 has been dismissed as a poor cousin by traditional document management vendors, but it is already the case that you can create highly functional document management solutions based on MOSS 2007.

To create such solutions you need to have an uncommonly good understanding of SharePoint and also the right add-on software. At MacroView we have developed our DMF add-on specifically for this purpose.

Document Management solutions based on MOSS 2007 + MacroView DMF are now in use by customers around the world. In some cases these solutions have replaced File Shares and Public Folders; others have replaced an existing document management system and are already handling millions of documents. In every case the feedback for these DMF solutions is that they lead to a marked improvement is user satisfaction with SharePoint.

The new release, SharePoint 2010, will provide an even better platform for creating document management solutions - solutions that are decidedly easier to manage, that provide much greater storage capacity and more DM features and functionality. In this article we will explore a number of aspects of SharePoint 2010 that are important in this regard.

How will end-users feel about Document Management solutions that are based on SharePoint 2010? Will they find such solutions easier to use and more effective than DM solutions that were based on SharePoint 2007? There are a number of improvements in the user interface for performing DM tasks in SharePoint 2010 and Office 2010, but some key weaknesses still remain, particularly in the end-user interface within Microsoft Outlook.

We believe that SharePoint 2010 will open up fantastic opportunities for third party products such as MacroView DMF, which provide excellent integration between Outlook and the DM capabilities of SharePoint 2010.


A major improvement with the 2010 release arrives in the form of improved scalability. SharePoint 2010 now has the ability to store and manage much larger volumes of documents, so Microsoft has answered the ‘2,000 item limit’, a criticism frequently aimed at MOSS 2007.

Microsoft's Adam Harmetz has publicly commented that with SharePoint 2010 “You no longer need to work around SharePoint to achieve scale.”
Some of the most important improvements in SharePoint 2010 include higher limits on the number of items in a document library (up from five million to tens of millions), automatic indexing (including composite indexes) and Remote Blob Storage (which will allow Site Collections to contain more documents by moving the bulk of the document content out of SQL Server).

Microsoft is talking about SharePoint 2010 document stores that range from hundreds of documents (for small collaboration teams) to large enterprise archives with hundreds of millions of documents.

Enhanced Metadata Support

One of the big breakthroughs with SharePoint 2010 is support for managing Content Types and metadata at the enterprise level. With SharePoint 2007, Content Types and Site Columns were managed within each Site Collection and keeping these metadata definitions consistent across all Site Collections could require a lot of Administration effort.
The new Content Type Syndication and Managed Metadata Services make it much easier to have consistent metadata structures across all Site Collections in an organisation – if necessary across multiple Server Farms.

As organisations became more familiar with SharePoint 2007, they often became increasingly aware of the need for ‘cascading’ look-ups and other forms of metadata that had a hierarchical structure, because this makes it easier to navigate and use large, complex taxonomies.
With its Term Sets mechanism, SharePoint 2010 provides native support for hierarchical taxonomies. Users can be permitted to add additional terms to the taxonomy, so that such metadata classification schemes grow and adapt over time (becoming a ‘folksonomy’). Metadata-based navigation is another new feature of SharePoint 2010 that will be very helpful to users who need to find documents in large document libraries. SharePoint 2007 provided the ability to filter the items in a View by selecting metadata values that were present in that View. This metadata-based filtering has now been greatly expanded so that the filtering is across the whole library and defined intuitively by selecting Pivots and Key Filters (indexed attributes). Metadata-based ‘pivots’ provide a dynamic filtering and grouping capability that is similar to the ‘virtual folders’ in a traditional DM system.

Folders & Document Sets

When it comes to designing a SharePoint document store, the basic building blocks of Site Collections, Sites, Document Libraries and Folders are all still present in SharePoint 2010. Good existing SharePoint 2007 designs will continue to work well in SharePoint 2010. The Folder is one building block that has been given enhanced capability in SharePoint 2010 and as a result, a clearer role.

In SharePoint 2007 it was already possible to define permissions at Folder level. With SharePoint 2010 you can also define Retention Policies, default metadata and available Views at Folder level. In addition the SharePoint 2010 Content Organiser mechanism can automatically route files into specific Folders based on the metadata captured as those files that are saved to a Library.

Whereas in SharePoint 2007 Folders were a means of working around the 2000 item limit to achieve large document libraries, they are now a means of achieving specific content organisation and record keeping tasks.

Note that using nested Folders in a Document Library to reproduce a deeply nested folder structure from a File Share drive is still not a good design practice in SharePoint 2010. Instead of such nested Folders, having more Document Libraries will be optimal in terms of providing automatic metadata and maintaining a desired standard structure within the document store.

The Document Set is a new feature of SharePoint 2010 that is already receiving positive reaction from prospective users. A Document Set is in effect a specialised type of Folder that has its own customisable ‘landing page’ to describe its purpose and usage.

In addition to being a way of grouping related documents within a Document Library, Document Sets extend the user experience when generating new content. An example is selecting a Document Set called ‘Sales Proposal’ from the ‘New’ menu to simultaneously create initial versions of a submission DOCX, a presentation PPTX and an XLSX for quotation calculations. For many organisations Document Management is about the full life-cycle of documents, and the Document Set is a useful step forward in this area.

Unique Document Numbering

From the Document Management perspective, a key new feature of SharePoint 2010 is its Unique Document Numbering. With out-of- the-box SharePoint 2007, documents were assigned an ID that was only unique within a Document Library. SharePoint 2010 allows you to have document numbering that is much closer to that found in traditional DM solutions.
The numbering that ships with SharePoint 2010 is unique across a Site Collection and by careful use of prefixes can be made unique across an organisation. These unique Document IDs can be used to locate a particular document, even if it has been moved from an original library location, e.g. to an archive Centre.

Support for working with documents while you are Offline is another area of improvement with SharePoint 2010. The SharePoint Workspace concept in SharePoint / Office 2010 will enable users to read and collaborate on changes to documents in a Library, even when some of those users are only occasionally connected to the central SharePoint server.

Changes made are automatically synchronised back to the SharePoint 2010 document store. SharePoint 2007 supported copying documents for access while offline, but not resynchronisation back of changes.
A key source of user frustration related to SharePoint 2007 was the lack of an intuitive tree-view of the overall SharePoint document store, which made navigating and using SharePoint feel awkward compared to the familiar trees of folders in Windows Explorer and Microsoft Outlook.
The new ‘Open in Windows Explorer’ feature on the SharePoint 2010 document library Ribbon is a definite step forward in this regard. It allows you to view the SharePoint Site / Library / Folder tree as a tree of Windows Explorer folders. It also supports drag-and-drop moving of documents between Libraries in the same Site, maintaining version history and metadata. It is also easier to register your favourite document webs and libraries so that you can access them from Word 2010, Excel 2010 and PowerPoint 2010.

Outlook Integration

However, to a large extent, user satisfaction with SharePoint 2010 as a document management platform will be determined by how easy it is to access the SharePoint 2010 document store while working in Microsoft Outlook. This emphasis on access from Outlook stems from the fact that email is now a primary channel for business communications. Vendors of traditional DM systems such as Autonomy / Interwoven Worksite and OpenText eDocs / Hummingbird DM recognize this need and have made Outlook a primary means for accessing their proprietary document stores.

A frequent complaint about Outlook 2007/SharePoint 2007 integration was that it was not possible to drag and drop email messages or attachments to save them to SharePoint. This situation is not significantly improved with Outlook 2010/SharePoint 2010.

There are a number of third party add-ons that improve the integration of Outlook with SharePoint so that users can drag and drop to save emails and attachments. These add-ons vary as to whether you can save to and/or view all or just some specially-registered document libraries and folders, but generally they save the messages so that they can be re-opened in Outlook, capture email attributes automatically and improve attachment handling.

MacroView Document Management Framework (DMF) is designed to provide a full range of document management capabilities on the Microsoft SharePoint platform, including excellent integration between Outlook and SharePoint.

MacroView DMF adds a custom pane to the user’s Outlook environment that displays a tree-view of all areas of the SharePoint document store for which that user has access permission. DMF supports drag-and-drop saving to any Library or Folder in this tree, as well as drag-and-drop moving and copying of documents between Libraries (including Libraries in other Sites and Site Collections). The DMF pane facilitates navigation in very large SharePoint document stores and also provides an intuitive interface to the SharePoint Search engine, directly from Microsoft Outlook.

MacroView DMF also adds customisations to Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Adobe Reader /Acrobat and Windows, so that working with the SharePoint document store is a consistent experience across all these business applications.

SharePoint 2010 provides a significantly improved platform for document management. By combining SharePoint 2010 with add-ons such as MacroView DMF you can create DM solutions that are full-function, highly scalable and popular with end-users.